It all started relatively innocuously.

Staff Sergeant David Bellavia was contacted in October 2018. Someone at the Pentagon wanted to talk with him.

It didn’t really register with Bellavia at the time.

“That could’ve been anything from, ‘We’d like you to give a talk to an army base” or “We found a Zippo in Fallujah with your name on it, would you like it back?’ I didn’t think it was anything of any significance of all,” he said.

It ultimately turned into a bit of a frustrating chain of events for the veteran. He knew he was supposed to get in touch with a senior member of the Department of Defense, but getting that person on the phone was a pretty difficult task.

The reason, as it turns out, was that senior member of the DOD was the most senior member of the department – the commander in chief. Even when he finally heard President Donald Trump on the other end of the line, he wasn’t sure it was real.

“The president of the United States is probably the most famous person in the entire world and everyone has been impersonating him forever and so you think to yourself, is this just an army guy busting my chops?” Bellavia said.

It was real. Trump told the Western New York native he would receive the Medal of Honor – the highest and most prestigious decoration bestowed on a member of the U.S. military.

Bellavia will be the first living recipient who served in the Iraq War.

The Power of Christ Compels You

Bellavia has recounted the night in November 2004 so many times at this point.

He is hesitant to go into to many details Tuesday, even as he was prodded by reporters to do so again. The veteran mostly wants to talk about the actions of other members of his platoon that helped him and others get out alive.

“I probably never thought that I would spend the rest of my life in that moment but I was fighting for my life and, you know, it’s what happened,” Bellavia said.

The platoon had been ordered to clear a 12-house block on the streets of Fallujah where a group of insurgents were hiding. At first they found nothing.

Finally, Bellavia remembered being lured into one building and upon opening a secondary door, the enemy opened fire with belt-fed machine guns. In the close confines of the house, it was like a seen from a movie.

“Everyone’s bleeding. Everyone was hurt,” he said.

Bellavia’s actions after that in which he killed four insurgents – one in hand-to-hand combat – and mortally wounded another, earned him a Silver Star Medal. He said during the time, he was thinking of his baby, his wife, his parents and reaching out to a higher power.

“My only real thought process was, I need God. I need a prayer. I need some sort of peace. I was trying to think of all these songs, I grew up memorizing, verses, and in the moment I needed a verse and I couldn’t think of any one,” Bellavia said. And I saw the Exorcist movie and that’s the only thing that popped into my head… that stupid movie.”

Time reporter Michael Ware, who was attached to the platoon, was the first to tell the story of how the soldier “single-handedly saved three squads of his Third Platoon that night risking his own life by allowing them to break contact and reorganize.” In 2007, Bellavia recounted it himself in his book House to House: An Epic Memoir of War.

It’s Already Changed Everything

Tuesday, the veteran sits in front of microphones from eight different television stations.

Reporters from Rochester and Buffalo have made their way to the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Cheektowaga – his first public event since news broke his Silver Star would be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. It’s about seven more microphones than he is accustomed.

“I feel like Kavanaugh, this is not something I signed up for or was expecting,” he said as he gestured to the mics.

Bellavia has talked plenty about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary hearing before he was officially confirmed, as well as many other hot-button political issues. He is the co-host of a Buffalo drive-time conservative talk radio show.

The position has earned him plenty of fans to the right and some critics on the left. However, in the past several days he has seen an outpouring of support and congratulations from people on both sides of the aisle.

He said the award has already changed his outlook on life.

“Sir, it’s already changed everything,” Bellavia said. “There are things that I did for a living. Sometimes, you know, you think you’re funny. Sometimes you want to make a point. Sometimes you think your opinion is important and you don’t think about other people. You don’t think about people that have a differences of opinion of you but your job is to just stir the mud. Your job is to get a reaction. I just, this award, I have so much respect for the men who have worn this.”

He said it is important to him, moving forward, to represent the Iraq veteran, who despite what some people may think about the war, “has nothing to apologize for.”

Way To Go, Man

The White House officially announced Tuesday, Bellavia would receive the Medal of Honor – it would’ve been his father’s 75th birthday.

William Bellavia passed away last year. David said his father was his hero.

At the press conference, he talked about how William would type up play-by-play of the Buffalo Bills games while he was deployed. He had access to the scores, but he would read these play-by-plays no matter where in the world he was.

“We just talked about the Bills,” Bellavia said. “No matter how bad the day was, it was about the Bills. How are we doing? We could complain about that and my Dad would always tell me something and I always thought he was just uncool because he was my dad but he would always say, ‘Way to go.” He’d say, ‘Way to go, man.'”

During that phone call with Trump, he said at times it was so surreal he wasn’t even listening, but at the end of the conversation the president said those words: “Way to go, man.” It brought Bellavia right back down to earth.

“To me it was my Dad saying that to me and it really touched my heart.”